Recovering in the Refuge of Sangha

Many people visit our three monasteries in North America, where we will hold several mindfulness retreats this fall during the Miracle of Mindfulness Tour in New York, Mississippi, and California.  

As we are preparing for the tour, we have invited some of our friends to share about their experience of practicing with the sangha. In this first sharing, Neha shares about taking refuge in the sangha a couple months after experiencing a car accident on her previous visit to Blue Cliff Monastery, Thank you for sharing this journey. 


 

Later that spring, while on an extended stay at Blue Cliff Monastery during Vesak, I was inspired to revisit the place of the accident—but this time, with the support of the monastic sisters. The sisters kindly agreed. When they had to run some errands in town, I accompanied them as they drove down the same road. Even though I did not have a conscious memory of the exact spot of the accident, my body reacted instinctively as we approached the area. I felt tremors and shakes run through my whole body. Each part of my body was experiencing intense fear-based energy.

However, something was different this time. I felt a hand on my shoulder, placed there by the sister sitting behind me. She gently encouraged me to keep both my hands on my stomach and breathe with the sensations of the body, which I did. Having done some trauma release work with a Somatic Experiencing therapist in prior months, I realized that I was going through a huge “discharge” of the trapped energy of trauma. As the experience passed through my body, I felt exhausted. Something very big had happened. I had revisited a painful place of trauma with the energy of mindfulness and compassion. It was as though there was an opening to release all the accumulated shock and fear, even from before the accident, all the way through my past. In the days following, I felt greater peace in my body, and the release continued over the next several days but with lesser intensity.

It has now been several months since the accident. There are no quick remedies in such situations. I have learned that it takes patience and time. I’m steadily recovering from the various bodily symptoms. I’ve begun taking pottery lessons to nourish myself creatively, and I continue to follow my spiritual practices as best I can every day. It is plainly discernable that the practice of mindfulness has been pivotal in helping me move through the healing process with greater faith and confidence. Knowing the practice of mindfulness and having a supportive Sangha are the foundations for my recovery. And truly, in my case the recovery had to take place on many levels.

As I write this story, I feel a deep love for the monastic sisters and brothers at Blue Cliff, lay friends, and Dharma teachers everywhere in the world. The quality of this love also includes elements of gratitude, reverence, and appreciation. In fact, one of the stronger motivations for writing about my experience is to testify to the miracle of taking refuge in a Sangha, a community that practices the teachings of the Buddha in harmony.

Reflecting on this accident with the help of the practice, I found that it was very easy for my mind to go to extreme positions. On one hand, it could spin all kinds of negative stories and compound my suffering. On the other hand, it could be jumping to spin positive stories to try to rationalize events in order to run away from the suffering. In reality, neither of these extremes is helpful for my practice.

I have also learned that it is pedestrian and futile for me to ask “why” questions. All that I can honestly and reasonably notice is that there were sufficient causes and conditions for the accident to have happened. There were also sufficient causes and conditions for me and the other driver to have lived through the accident. We are still alive! It is in being able to see both these sides with a dispassionate equanimity and joy that healing occurs.

I discovered that there were more than enough conditions for my happiness and healing even in the midst of loneliness, despair, and suffering. Moreover, as I look back now I’m thankful for the kindness of all the people who stopped and helped. I feel thankful for the medical expertise, attention, and treatments I received from those who cared for me in hospitals and in private practice. And I feel thankful for my parents, who rushed from India to be with me here.

Most of all, I am grateful and humbled that through my experiences I was given the opportunity to taste the truth of Thay’s central teaching: no mud, no lotus.


 

Neha’s entire story will be published in an upcoming issue of The Mindfulness Bell, our journal of the art of mindful living.